The Forgiveness Chronicles - Part XII: The Maiden
The Forgiveness Chronicles, Continued
Part XII: The Maiden
“The nutritionist said I should eat root vegetables.
Said if I could get down thirteen turnips a day
I would be grounded, rooted.
Said my head would not keep flying away
to where the darkness lives.
"The psychic told me my heart carries too much weight.
Said for twenty dollars she’d tell me what to do.
I handed her the twenty. She said, “Stop worrying, darling.
You will find a good man soon.”
"The first psycho therapist told me to spend
three hours each day sitting in a dark closet
with my eyes closed and ears plugged.
I tried it once but couldn’t stop thinking
about how gay it was to be sitting in the closet.
"The yogi told me to stretch everything but the truth.
Said to focus on the out breath. Said everyone finds happiness
when they care more about what they give
than what they get.
"The pharmacist said, “Lexapro, Lamicatl, Lithium, Xanax.”
"The doctor said an anti-psychotic might help me
forget what the trauma said.
"The trauma said, “Don’t write these poems.
Nobody wants to hear you cry
about the grief inside your bones.”
"But my bones said, “Tyler Clementi jumped
from the George Washington Bridge
into the Hudson River convinced
he was entirely alone.”
"My bones said, “Write the poems.”
― Andrea Gibson, The Madness Vase
After lunch, Maria set off to do henna and metallic temporary tattoos. All limber from stretching, with a full belly and a cup of strong green tea, I joined Nora and Janis in our screened in “living room” and we spent most of the day with a deck of tarot cards, a box of macrons, and a bowl of fruit while burning incense and smoking weed. For the first time since we had arrived, the sun had shown without hesitation and we basked in its light, like lazy cats sunning ourselves on beach mats, unraveling from our stress. It was a decadent, relaxing, self-indulgent afternoon, something mothers rarely enjoy. There were no interruptions, no screaming, no crying, no diapers to be changed or food to be made, no demands or phone calls or emails or laundry. It was the pure bliss of just being.
A while later, we ventured over to Maria, who was packing up her henna kit. Melody was lying on the grass next to her and Janis stood in front of Melody, shading her face from the sun as we each sat down and took turns getting silver metallic temporary tattoos put on. Melody made a comment to me that she did not consider herself a Pagan.
“But I am a witch,” she proclaimed strongly.
“I get it,” I replied. I didn’t consider paganism a religion. It encompassed too many occult, mystical, indigenous and esoteric philosophies to be a religion. It wasn’t really cohesive enough.
“When I left Christianity, I didn’t want to jump into another religion,” she explained.
“Makes sense. I understand being anti-dogma,” I nodded. No one needs a rebound religion, I thought. They call those cults.
I wasn’t in the mood to chat with her; the conversation seemed like a puzzle piece I might find under the couch while vacuuming because her comments had been so random. I wasn’t sure what had prompted it, or what her point in telling me any of that had been. All of us left and headed to Agate’s camp to begin hauling wood for the fire build.
By now, I was acutely aware that there weren’t nearly as many fire tenders as we had been promised during our first meetings with Agate. I had logged over 13 hours of pro bono time for Agate. I knew my resentment stemmed from my unease in working for someone I didn’t resonate with. I didn’t really feel like spending more time following her orders or hauling wood, but I also didn’t want to let my friends down…especially Nora. Nora seemed uplifted, a burgeoning sense of confidence welling up inside of her from the pride of having designed and built the fire the night before, and then again from having saved the lighting ceremony when Agate’s attempts at kindling the fire had failed.
That night was the big ritual fire, the most important night of the festival where everything culminated into a ceremonial climax. Maria and I loaded up stacks of wood into a wagon and were pushing and pulling the loads to and from the campsite to the fire pit. At one point, the coals from the night before were still burning, so we had to rake them out with buckets of water so the new fire would not begin burning while we were building it. This time, Nora took charge of constructing the fire and by the time it was done, it was a large teepee of wood with a hollow log towering in the center and encircled by three rings of logs. She and Janis gathered wildflowers to adorn the creation, which was a beautiful tribute to nature. Never once did I hear a breath of gratitude from Agate and it only fueled my resentment.
Where were these other fire tenders? I asked around and learned most of the other tenders had bailed on their commitment, preferring to enjoy the festival instead, getting drunk at their campsites, getting massages, having tarot card readings done. We were left to tend fire for yet another night because we cared, because we took it seriously. It seemed a theme in my life that played out all too often – others commit, benefit from committing, don’t follow through, and then I was left carrying the weight – like group projects in high school. My entire career revolved around holding people accountable; it had become ingrained at that point, and despite my surroundings, I couldn’t just shift my cultural vantage point at the snap of a finger. I wondered if I was alone in feeling like we had already exceeded our commitment and contribution. We had planned a sunset ceremony, just the four of us, for that night. I didn’t want to be the one to have to put my foot down. I felt like I had to do it all the time – I had a toddler at home, after all – and I was always fighting with someone, whether at work or at home. This weekend was as much a spiritual retreat for me as it was a break from life. I felt as though I was the one who always took a stand and I was exhausted.
That afternoon was different. Janis and Nora flatly refused to show up for starting the fire that night.
“We have plans,” Janis firmly told Agate. “I can’t promise to be back here by 7:45.”
I did a double take and felt my right eyebrow lift. Of all of us, Janis was the people pleaser.
She would do anything for anyone at the drop of the hat and was known for blurring boundaries and over-committing. However, her heels were firmly planted.
“We’ll get back after we are done with our thing,” Nora told Agate.
And that was that. Maria turned quickly and marched off in the direction of the tent, concealing a smug smile. I followed along, shocked, grateful, and relieved by the assertiveness of my friends.
When we were out of earshot, Maria was the first to speak up. “Where are all the f^$king fire tenders?” she asked incredulously. “I thought she had more this year than she had ever had before.”
I nodded. “Yeah, that day you two didn’t show up on time and I was stuck there with her by myself? She was bragging about the crew she assembled.”
Nora rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well that chiropractor girl that dances around topless and wears the fox tail? The one from Oklahoma? She’s a fire tender.”
Janis sucked in a breath. “She hasn’t done a f*$king thing!”
“She’s ‘contributing to the energy of the fire with her dance,’” I said sarcastically, repeating what I had been told the night before. “Look, no one wants to see my bare ass jumping around over there, so I am stuck in boots with a rake.”
Everyone laughed. “She didn’t manage this well at all,” Maria said.
“She doesn’t have her shit together…in her own life or here,” I said. “I am not surprised. but I resent being ‘led’ by people who don’t have their shit together. I’ve put in my time. I’m good.”
“But if we don’t tend fire tonight, who will?” Nora asked. “It’s the big night.”
Maria shrugged. “Not my circus, not my monkey.”
“They’ll figure it out. People like that always do. We’re an easy target because we’re reliable,” I said.
Nora looked at me unconvinced. “I don’t mind. I love tending fire.”
I smiled. “Yes, but I like sitting by a fire with a glass of wine more.”
With purpose, we all hurried back to camp and began gathering our things for the ritual we had been planning for weeks. It was just before sunset. The four of us gathered our belongings and strode through the meadow towards the car. Each of us wore a hooded cape. I also wore a mask about my eyes as I gripped Windfall like a walking stick. Janis held a plastic cauldron filled with candles, smudging sage, cakes, and wine. I had to bring the Grimoire with us; it did not feel right to leave it behind, even though I wouldn’t need to use it. With the car loaded, we slowly left the parking spot and drove to the trail head of the Egyptian site in the woods. When we got out of the car, we heard loud drumming accented by a cowbell. The pounding was rhythmic and strong, echoing through the trees. It sounded like the spot was occupied, but we took a brisk walk down anyway, only to find some of the drummers practicing in a circle for the night’s fire ritual. They asked if we had plans for the space, but we declined, walking back to the car.
“That was a sign,” Nora said. “We’re supposed to go to the fairy spot.”
We all agreed. We got to the trail head for the fairy spot just as the sun began to sink past the horizon. I noticed it was 7:22 p.m., which in numerology correlated with the number 11, a lucky number associated with the marriage between God and Goddess; the unification of all pieces back into the whole in ultimate manifestation. We adopted a brisk pace through the woods to our destination, which was approximately a half mile into the forest. We arrived at the spot just as the light was fading. The beads hanging from the trees glittered in the final rays of golden evening light. Nora hung a cinnamon broom high over the gateway to the fairy realm, placing a card detailing the festival’s patron goddess, The Morrigan, in its bristles.
“My mom always got a cinnamon broom every fall,” she whispered, staring at her handiwork.
There was a wistfulness in her voice I couldn’t quite wrap my heart around. What was it like to lose a mother, I wondered. A shudder crept up my spine and I shrugged it off. I didn’t want to know. I wasn’t ready. Is anyone ever ready to lose a loved one?
My winged earrings from earlier still hung there, dangling on a piece of rope. We scattered pistachios for the fairies, and Nora greeted the tiny folk from another dimension with a soft and soothing voice, like she was speaking with old friends.
We lined up our supplies and formed our circle. I was East, Nora was South, Janis was West, and Maria was North. We each lit our candles, yellow for east; red for south; blue for west; and black for north. Then Nora produced a piece of charcoal from the dance fire we had all tended the night before and we passed it around, each of us drawing a quarter of a circle in the dirt until my quarter met Nora’s.
I grabbed Windfall and planted it firmly into the earth before me, calling to the spirits of the East: the Air elementals, the wind, the intellect, the dawn. I sighed. I had always felt trapped in a life that didn’t feel like my own. I did not have my own time, energy, or life; every moment was lived for someone else’s benefit, at someone else’s behest. Yet, with all the student loans from law school, I saw little choice but to summon all the courage I had to continue to ride the line, pay off the debt as quickly as possible, and buy my way to freedom. It was the only key I saw to opening the cage into a new life where my days would be my own and I could be unfettered to pursue a more creative life.
I invited the spirit of the Morrigan to provide her protection and guidance. I requested clarity in communication and purity of thought in this pursuit, imploring the Cosmos to guide me to the path efficiency in pursuing great abundance. I lit the incense and stuck the stick into the ground. I lifted Windfall and made the shape of the banishing pentagram in the air, requesting that all ill communication and obstacles be cleared from my mind so that I may banish my self-doubt. Making a quarter circle through the air, I passed Windfall to Nora.
This trip had been a difficult one for Nora. I looked over at her and a solitary tear trickled down her cheek. She wanted another baby, but time was running out.
Nora had been worried when we set off on Thursday night. The reason she had been late in coming to my house was because she had peed on a stick that afternoon, and the result had been clear. Nora grappled with all the things every family struggles with, like figuring out childcare, which was already a struggle for the daughter they had in Kindergarten. Kindergarten had not been going well. They lived in the inner city, and most of the time, the charter school her daughter attended had been leaving the kids on the playground for long stretches of time with little supervision. Her daughter had complained that a boy had put his hand down her shirt or being harassed by kids who spoke of wanting to cut her to pieces. The incidents were piling up. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, she had to contend with a coworker who was so sinister and ruthless in her job, Nora referred to her as The Devil. She had managed to snag herself a job in management, only to have The Devil shit on the schedule. The Devil had been working retail for 25 years. Her sales were the highest in the department. If The Devil didn’t like her schedule, she would come in on someone else’s shift and steal all their sales. She did it to everyone, even Nora. Nora’s complaints to management went unanswered. Sales mattered more than being a team player. Nora felt like she was living in the midst of a vice grip and she was being squeezed.
Another tiny tear rolled down her cheek as she looked up toward the sky and invoked her favorite goddess, Diana.
“I don’t know how this is all gonna pan out,” she started, “but I invoke the divine flame of life, the light of the moon, and the spark of creation,” she said, making her symbol and passing Windfall to Janis.
It took nothing – nothing – to make Janis cry.
“Here I am, bringing the water,” Janis said, as fat, wet tears streamed down her cheeks. Seeing even a tear escape Nora triggered a deluge in Janis. She let out a big sigh and stared at the ground. We were all barefoot.
Janis was a wreck…as usual. She had suffered emotional abuse from a narcissistic husband for over fifteen years now. Her kid had moved Seattle. Her younger children would barely speak to her. One had gotten caught looking at porn on the internet with a friend and the friend’s parent had been unhappy about it. The other kid had been caught getting stoned, and had blamed it on a friend, who had all but dropped out of high school. The kids were not doing well in school, the house was filthy, the yard wasn’t mowed, and her life was falling apart. She was still having an affair. She couldn’t break it off, but she struggled to move forward with her divorce.
“I need to wash away this dishonesty,” she said. “I call upon the Morrigan to carry it away, to give me courage to face my fears, and to find happiness.”
She held the staff and rolled it between her palms. She gripped it tightly.
“I want the way forward to present itself to me,” she said. “One thing at a time. Hocus Focus.”
She passed Windfall to Maria, who planted her feet firmly in the ground and held the staff strong. She bowed her head. Of all of us, Maria had her shit together the most. She knew exactly who she was and the vision she had for her life. She wasn’t about to get bogged down with uncertainty.
“I call upon Lakshmi, Ganesh, and the earth elementals to help ground us. I am grateful for the opportunity to be here today, for my sisters, who walk together,” she began. “I ask that we be shown the way to our true paths,” she continued. “I’ve been afraid of practicing magic for a long time.”
It was the first she had ever admitted this. I stared at her, shocked.
“I think being a recovering Catholic has caused me to fear my own power, and I am ready to break that cycle.” She paused. “When I was young, my uncle was a priest in the Church,” she began, her voice barely a whisper. “One day, after Mass, he took me and my brother to an area in the Church that we had never been before. There was a door that led to a basement. He left me but took my brother. I I know what happened down there. He wasn’t the same after that. He killed himself within a year. I was never encouraged to claim my power as a woman. The fear of the unknown was planted deep. I’m letting that fear go now.”
She made her sign and passed the staff to me. The circle was complete, we had cast it, and now it was time to smudge. I had a large bundle of sage with copal ready for the moment. The dry bundle of twigs and leaves caught fire quickly, and I slowly blew on it to get it going. Soon, hot orange embers smoldered in a billow of thick, periwinkle smoke. Nora raised her arms and lifted her chin. I lightly blew the smoke over each limb, starting at Nora’s head and working my way to her feet, front, then back up to her head following the spine. Nora smudged Janis the same way, waving the smoke as she blew on the stick, enshrouding her in a cloud. Janis smudged Maria, and Maria smudged me, all in silence. We sat the smoking bundle in the middle of the circle. It was now dusk. The air around us was still.
One by one, we asked the Morrigan, Diana, Lakshmi, and our other favorite goddesses to help us transmute the negative things in our lives – our fear, doubts, uncertainties, and inability to focus, now all being carried away in the smoke that lifted in the breeze – into positive things, like confidence, success, stability, and concentration.
We each took our turns making offerings. Nora had crumbled charcoal for Fire, Janis shed tears for Water, and Maria spread bits of moss and salt for Earth. I offered the smudging sage. Each of us had our own version of what we wanted the Windfall to be. As for me, I was unabashed that I wanted a large monetary gain to fall into my lap so that I could free myself from the shackles of student loan debt and along with it, the stress of career, always taking the next case, just to be sure that bills got paid. I had been taking cases I didn’t believe in for clients I didn’t like for the sake of paying down a debt that essentially amounted to a second mortgage. I wanted to live a life more harmonious with my authentic self. Nora wanted her future sorted out. Janis wanted her marriage sorted out. Maria wanted to learn spell casting.
The third time we went around the circle, we gave thanks.
“I acknowledge my Sisters. I am grateful for the Sisterhood we have entered into and I pledge to love and support each of you, to lift you up and encourage you in these endeavors. So Mote It Be!”
We took turns pledging ourselves to the Sisterhood we had created. I expected that we would arrive at a coven name in the moment, but nothing came. We chose not to force it, instead holding hands as darkness surrounded us, by candlelight that shone from each of our four candles. We passed around a bottle of wine, each taking a sip and leaving the remainder as an offering and doing the same with cupcakes.
“The earth, the air, the fire, the water, return, return, return! Earth, air, fire, water, return, return, return!” Maria chanted, releasing the elements as she clapped.
Nora gathered up our belongings into a basket and sprinkled wine and cupcakes across the perimeter, whispering thanks to the little spirits that had watched over us. Janis assisted her. I kept the smoldering sage bundle going, taking a lap around the area and blowing smoke into the branches of the brush and trees that bordered the site.
We closed our circle with a feeling of immense cleansing, healing, and power. Each of us carried our candle to light the way down the tree lined path through pitch darkness back to the parking lot. When we finally arrived at the car, spontaneously, we put our candles together.
“One Flame,” Janis said.
“That’s it!” Maria cried. “That’s the coven name!”
We all repeated it and laughed, smiling at how everything always comes together in just the right way and at just the right time. Together, we blew out the candle and kissed the fluorite stone crowning Windfall.
By the time we returned to the meadow, the ritual fire was in full swing. We approached with our sage still burning. Chanting, drumming, and ritual ceremony was spinning in a tightly packed mob around the fire, which huge and hot and licking at the night sky. The large hollow log in the center was throwing up a massive flame, as though it were a volcano of fire. We attempted to get closer but were immediately blocked.
“You haven’t been smudged,” a woman told us, refusing to let us any closer.
I looked at Nora and laughed because Janis was holding the bundle of sage in her hand. Janis and Maria rolled their eyes and walked off. Nora and I stood transfixed, staring at the fire.
“Maybe we should go over there by Agate,” I said pointing to the fire-tending spot where Agate’s wagon of supplies was set up.
We walked over and I saw that slowly, Janis and Maria had somehow managed to work their way into the circle around the fire. I held Windfall and got to the edge of the circle, but something held me back. I had been perplexed by the rejection a moment ago; but realized that perhaps it had been for a bigger reason. I honored my intuition and hung back at the edge of the sand, watching the ritual unfold. It didn’t look too different than the ritual from the previous two nights and I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why, but I was disappointed. I had been intent on enjoying the night, letting loose to dance around the circle of fire, but a subconscious force subdued me.
The ritual came to what seemed like an abrupt end and the drumming ceased. Everyone stopped in their spots and a hush descended over the crowd. Suddenly, Melody appeared with a young girl by her side. The girl wore a long sun dress that came to her ankles and was brightly colored. Her hair had the glossy waves of youth, her smooth, freckled cheeks glowed pink in the firelight. When Melody was sure that she had summoned everyone’s attention, she announced that the girl – a maiden – had just begun her moon cycle that day at the festival. The girl appeared to have been about twelve. The women all collectively cooed and cheered for her, washing her in a wave of warm wishes and praise. Melody launched into a speech about the sacred rite of beginning the moon cycle, but her words were lost, sinking into the depths of an abyss, growing more and more distant as I stood there, transfixed. I felt a clenching in my chest and a tugging between my shoulder blades, as though pulled by invisible strings. I wobbled as a wave shuddered through my body. I gripped Windfall and pulled down, fixing the tip of the iron fire staff into the soft earth below.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, I felt as though my uterus was going into revolt. The cramps came suddenly, radiating in a searing heat through my lower back and wrapping around my pelvis to my belly and down my legs into my toes, almost as breathtaking as a labor pain. My knees buckled and I slumped, renewing my grip on Windfall with both hands. The pulses of pain kept coming, undulating like the monstrous storm waves I had watched eroding the beach on the North Shore of Hawaii, pounding, pummeling, and grinding without mercy. I groaned and looked for a place to sit, but the benches were full. I clenched my teeth and felt the throb of pain continue as my vision began to blur, heavy under the strain.
I couldn’t think in that moment. I just gripped Windfall and kept glancing at the bench for an opening, and when I saw a woman get up and begin to dance, I slid into her spot and hunched over.
“Nora,” I called. “I don’t know what’s happening but I’m dealing with some sudden intense cramping.”
“Just relax,” she said. “We can watch the fire.”
I passed Windfall to Nora and wrapped my arms around my knees, hugging them into my chest. I stared at the fire as its flames flickered. Cold tendrils of air crept across my back as I felt the darkness of night snake its way from the woods behind me into the meadow. I saw Nora and Agate expertly move the hollow log from its upright position and lay it on its side with their rakes and Windfall. Maria grabbed a blanket and took our stuff away from the fire and over to the grass behind the bench.
“Lay down,” she commanded, ever the healer.
“Where are these damn cramps coming from?” I moaned. “I’m not supposed to start for another week!”
She shook her head and rubbed my back. “Plant your back into the earth,” she instructed.
“Give the pain to the Mother.”
I rolled over and she picked up her rake and headed to the fire. There had been only two times in my life where I had endured pain so intense. One was childbirth. The other was a kidney stone the year after childbirth. Usually my cramps would be bad, but tolerable. I could work through them, hold a thought, and even stand and walk around. These were all-consuming. I couldn’t think, stand, or walk. All I could do was allow the pain to wash over me and try to become one with it.
Agate appeared in the dark next to me. “You need to get up and come to the fire,” she said.
I groaned. It felt like a terrible idea.
She eased me up off the ground and helped me back to the fire, standing me right in front of it. The fire was so hot I could feel the skin on my face seize up.
“Give it to the fire,” she instructed.
I tried to take a step back from the inferno, but she nudged me closer. I decided surrender was probably best; I didn’t have energy for anything else. I stood there, doing nothing. I knew the pain was a sacred messenger. It wouldn't be willed away into the fire or the earth; it had a message to reveal, and until I unraveled the message, the pain would be there for the count. She had her hand on my back and was rubbing her hand over the kidneys and flicking the energy into the fire with her fingertips, mumbling something under her breath.
“Who are you missing right now?” she asked.
I thought a moment. I wasn’t consciously aware of missing anyone. Was I missing someone? I couldn’t think. I couldn’t feel anything but pain.
“My daughter,” I answered laconically. It was as good an answer as any and the only thing that came to mind. Perhaps if I just say something, this will end and I can go lay back down.
Agate nodded sympathetically. I thanked her for her healing and asked to go lay back down. Back on my blanket, in the cold, I stared up at the stars. The faint band of the Milky Way arched across the sky and I willed myself to leave my body and go explore the stars. My eyes closed and I drifted away until I felt a pat on my knee.
“Hey, are you awake? This is my friend, an acupuncturist. She’s going to try and help you,” Maria said.
A blonde woman approached me and asked if she could touch me. She pressed different points along my abdomen, pushed on my knees, sent me her well wishes and left me again to stare at the stars. I again drifted away, sailing upon the ocean of pain.
“Here, have some wine,” Janis said.
My eyes fluttered open and I tried to sit up.
“How long have I been here?” I asked.
“A while,” she said. “Look, its cold out here.”
“I don’t think I can tend the fire tonight. I’m really sorry to have to dodge out,” I said.
She shook her head. “Don’t worry. We got this.”
I stared across the field. The tent wasn’t even a quarter of a mile away, but it still felt like embarking on a marathon. I tried to stretch my arms, willing myself to keep moving now that I was up again.
“I’m going back to the tent to lie down.”
I gathered my bag and water bottle and limped over to the fire, hugging my Sisters goodnight. I stared at the fire and wondered what mystery it held to have sparked such a sudden change. Before I could wonder too much, a renewed surge of pain overtook me and I quickened my pace back to the tent through the field. Dew began to form on the grass, and I felt my feet dampen through my shoes. The night was growing cold and a chill settled into my spine. Steam exited my lips and hung in the air about my face. Cold and damp, I crawled into the tent and rummaged through my bag for more clothes. It was frustrating, needing warmth, finding none, the search for the wool socks and the sweatpants I had packed felt impossible.
Laying down on my cold, deflated bed, I could not find a comfortable position. The drums around the fire, even across the long stretch of grass, pounded loudly and the pain throbbing in my womb synchronized with the metronome: THUMPPPP! Thump, thump, thump…THUMPPPP! Thump, thump, thump…. The other women in our camping area were laughing and talking loudly around their own fire. The penetrating cold kept descending, trying to snatch my warmth from me. I tossed, in and out of sleep, just on the edge of consciousness. A kaleidoscope of colors ebbed and flowed behind my eyelids. I tried to fix my awareness on the undulating colors, a distraction from the boa constrictor that had a death grip on my womb.
After an unknown amount of time, the tent rustled with the hard rrrrRRRrrrip! of the zipper, and I smelled wood smoke. Nora appeared in the tent.
“Are you awake?” she whispered.
“Yeah, I can’t really sleep with the cramps,” I answered.
“Well, I got something to tell you tomorrow. Tonight was crazy,” she said.
“Where are Maria and Janis?” I asked.
“Maria’s coming. Janis is drinking at Agate’s camp,” she answered.
I nodded in the dark. “Tell me your story…if you are awake enough. I need a distraction from the pain.”
“Well, I was tending fire and this woman in green with short blonde hair came up to me and started channeling my mom,” Nora began. I wondered if she was the same lady that had tended to me in the field. “She told me she wanted to leave the fire, but something kept her there. She had the thought of ‘gotta see the fire through, gotta see this fire through,’ and finally, she came over and was speaking to me exactly as my mom would have. She knew things she could not have possibly known. Then she told me I was first generation fey and I needed to find a woman named Taylor Egan,” she finished.
“Wow, that’s pretty intense,” I mused, recalling the first time I had even been called a fairy. Chet and I had been staying at the Luna Valley bed and breakfast in the Arizona desert on our wedding day. We were waiting for our officiant, a Cherokee Shaman by the name of Singing Deer. The woman who ran the B&B had just brought me a bouquet of local wildflowers to hold. The doorbell rang and in walked Singing Deer, carrying all his ceremonial supplies. He immediately hugged me and gave me a long, appraising look. “You are fairy,” he had told me. “I can see it in you.” It had been an intense moment, being told I had the spirit of an other-worldly being inside of me. He told my husband I would be a handful. He was probably right.
“I’ve got to figure out how to find Taylor Egan! I need to figure out who that woman was at the fire,” Nora said.
I thought a moment. “Maybe it was Taylor herself, she just didn’t want to get into it here, “ I mused. “That Melody lady seems to know everyone. Maybe tomorrow you could ask her.”
I could hear a hesitant pause coming from Nora. “The other day when you introduced us, she was kind of stand-off-ish.”
I wasn’t a fan, either, but we needed to get the information somehow.
“Well then I can ask her,” I offered.
Just then the tent rustled again, and we heard the rrrrrRRRRrrrrrip! of the zipper. Janis and Maria entered the tent.
“God its late and I’ve been drinkin’ again,” Janis announced. “I’m f^#kin’ tired.”
“Ugh, me too, girl,” Maria echoed.
Both immediately collapsed into their beds. Nora asked Maria if she knew who the woman at the fire was, but no one had seen her before, and no one knew of anyone that fit the description. We all vowed to solve the mystery before we left the next day. I rolled over and hugged my knees to my chest, tucking my down blanket around my back. I wondered what time it was, and how long I would lay awake, shivering, in pain, until dawn broke.
As usual, I was again the first to rise, far too early, after a mostly sleepless night. This was the third night in a row I had probably averaged two hours of actual sleep, only dozing lightly as Janis snored and my mattress deflated. I groaned inwardly with exhaustion. Only food and strong tea could keep me going until I got home that evening. We had an entire camp to break down and I wasn’t looking forward to it.
When I shifted positions to sit, I felt a warm, sticky gush between my thighs. Ah, and there it is. My misery is complete, I thought, as I knew I had under five minutes to clench my Kegels and get down to the bathhouse to take care of business. By the time I returned to camp, I bypassed the tent and went straight to the camp kitchen, brewing a strong batch of tea and trying to clean up the area as I rounded up leftovers for the final day brunch buffet.
A woman named Leah wandered over to keep me company. Leah was middle-aged on the verge of retirement and was one of the only women working on the auto factory assembly line at a plant north of town. She was vivacious and had a wicked sense of humor. She had done up her entire camp Egyptian style, even going so far as to paint her tent like the inside of a mausoleum. She was dripping with Egyptian themed jewelry that reminded me of my Gramma JoJo: ankhs, scarabs, cartouches. I shoved away my sadness and regret when I thought of the beautiful jewelry Gramma had gotten me that I had pawned over the years as a struggling and irresponsible student, and then lawyer, in my twenties. In looking at Leah, I knew there was truth in the saying that youth was wasted on the young.
I began telling her about my night. She quickly found the story relatable and told me about her childhood. She had been raised in a Southern family with high expectations for boys and limitations for girls. Anything feminine, like periods, pregnancies, childbirth, sex – all those discussions held between women – were uncomfortable for her, and yet she listened to the story about my raging uterus.
“Why would you come to this kind of festival, then?” I asked.
She shrugged and took a sip of her coffee. “It’s a good excuse to get away from my husband and to drink and make an ass of myself without judgment,” she admitted. She waved her hand at the field. “All that,” she said dismissively, “is just weird psychobabble pomp and circumstance. “This,” she said, gesturing to herself and her tent, “is a costume party.”
She confided that she had gotten a hysterectomy in her early 20s because of the Dalcon Shield scandal. One of my law professors had been a clerk during the big federal trial and had told us stories of women who had been permanently sterilized by the contraceptive device. Leah didn’t comment in any detail, glazing over the injury as though it were just an unfortunate life event. She never had children and couldn’t physically relate to female bodily sufferings.
“It all started when they were honoring a maiden for starting her moon cycle,” I added.
Leah rolled her eyes. “If I had been subjected to that kind of public celebration over my period, I would have been mortified. Can you imagine?” she snorted.
Everything around me stopped and my heart skipped a beat. The epiphany slammed into me. Agate had asked me who I was missing...I never had a maidenhood. I was missing ME, as a maiden. My daughter had come to mind, but it was ME all along.
My innocence was stolen from me by a nasty molester at the age of seven, and I had no memories of it until I started my period at the horrifically late age of seventeen. Seven. Seventeen. A decade apart. There were those cycles again, except they went back further into my childhood than I had previously thought. The first blood shed from my womb had brought with it a terrible flood of memories from childhood. Those times where I had just gone to a neighbor’s to play and instead wound up being subjected to unmentionable acts had been revealed, a curtain lifted only to expose a horror show behind the scenes. The man was a dump truck driver with a son a year older than me and two daughters, one of whom was a year younger than me. Their mother was a stay-at-home mom, but looking back now, it was apparent she had a drug problem; she had always been on the couch, nodded off, with a cigarette between her lips, sores on her face, her thin body limp, her mousy brown hair stringy with neglect. One day, as I was playing in my front yard, the man had arrived home in his dump truck and deliberately ran over his dog, which was chained up near the driveway. The dog had let out an ear-curdling YELP! as its back end remained trapped under the front wheel. It writhed and continued to scream, as it surrendered slowly into an agonizing death. All the while, his master had pulled up a lawn chair and sat there, drinking beer, and watching as the dog met its demise. He threw his empty bottles with a loud CLANG and the metallic sound of shattering glass into the back of the dump truck. Some of the bottles had missed their target and shattered on his driveway, littering the gravel with shards of green glass that glinted in the late afternoon sun. My mom had tried to bring me inside to shield me from the revolting spectacle unfolding across the street, but it was too late. The memory was firmly emblazoned, lingering in a file cabinet in the back of my mind.
The memories of that man washed over me as cramps overtook my back in the locker room at high school the afternoon I had gotten my first moon cycle. Public school had never been an easy place for me. Instead of playing sports on a school team, I was a competitive swimmer on a year round team. I went to practice before and after school, and even on Saturday mornings. I had so little body fat that it had taken forever for me to begin my cycle. On the day it finally did come, it never occurred to me that my discomfort could be due to my period starting, because at that point, I had just assumed mine would never come.
P.E. was a nightmare for me anyway, as I watched my peers grow into feminine bodies while mine resisted taking shape. I didn’t have pretty panties or bras. I never really got excited about hair and makeup and clothing. My mom had decorated my room in pink roses, doilies crocheted by her grandmother, and porcelain dolls but none of those things felt like me. All I wanted to do was travel the world, learn to surf, climb mountains, and see new things. I couldn’t get far enough away from home. That day in the locker room, when all the girls were snickering behind my back, I couldn’t quite figure out what their problem was because they were always making fun of me.
But then, when I took off my gym shorts, I saw the stain and my heart sunk. I was scared and confused. Was this it? Or was I sick? Was I hurt? A couple of the girls threw tampons and maxi pads at me, jeering, probably because I looked so bewildered. I left all the products littered on the floor ran out to the parking lot, driving home and immediately going to the bathroom. My mom had put a box of tampons under the sink years ago, and it sat there, collecting dust until that one terrible afternoon. I had shoved the memories away, confused. Had it really happened? Had that really been me? Those are just bad dreams, I had thought to myself, uneasily. Out of necessity and panic, I had locked myself in the bathroom and opened the box. I pulled out the insert and read every word, over and over again, completely unsure how to manage the situation.
My mom had knocked on the door. “You in there? We need to leave to get you to practice.”
I bit my lip. “Mom, I’m bleeding.”
“You need a band aid?” she asked.
I sighed. It seemed like my Mom, too, has resigned herself to the odd sense of denial that my period would ever come. Was she going to make me say it? I don’t want to say it.
“No mom, not that kind of bleeding.”
Silence. More silence. I was starting to shake a little.
“There’s tampons under the sink. Put one in and let’s go,” she said matter-of-factly. I heard her walk away from the door.
Everything was overwhelming. I kept shoving this nagging sense of doom away, as though something had gone very wrong somewhere in life. Nothing made sense. Tears stung my eyes. I grabbed a tampon and could only stare at it. I read the directions again. I stared at my naked body in the mirror and put a foot up on the toilet like the figure in the diagram. Everything inside of me didn’t want anything to go in there. I felt like I had no choice. I tried to get it to go in. It refused. I tried again. Pain. Nothing was working. I started to sweat.
“MOM!” I screamed. By now, tears were running down my face. I was paralyzed.
I heard the footsteps return and pause outside the door.
“I can’t, Mom.” I needed her, my voice pleaded with her. I needed her and yet I couldn't say anything more about that need, that desperate, nagging need.
I heard a heavy impatient sigh on the other side of the door. “You get that thing in or I’ll do it for you.”
My heart suddenly felt like a chunk of lead and I gagged on my exhale. I was mortified.
“Mom, no. Please, let’s just skip it today, okay?” I shook. My voice shook. I wondered why she couldn't just feel what I needed. I wished she could just sense what was happening.
“You can’t swim with a pad on, Aubs.”
“No, I mean skip practice today. Please?”
There was a long pause. “No, you need to do this. This is life. This is part of being female. We all have to deal with this.”
I knew it was over, that she wasn't picking up on my terror. This was an inconvenience for her, and she was letting me know that this was going to be a lifelong inconvenience for me, too. If she felt anything, if she sensed anything, she didn't let on.
I didn’t know what to do. There were no pads under the sink. I ultimately folded up sheets of toilet paper, stuffed them into my panties, put on a baggy pair of sweatpants, and grabbed my swim bag. The plan formed in my head: she would just drop me off at the pool and I would fake like I had been to practice. I could buy a pad from the vending machine in the locker room, take a shower, look like I had gotten in the water, and meet her in the parking lot before she came back to pick me up.
But things didn’t work out as I had planned. I showed up at the pool and immediately our coach had a team meeting by the pool before letting us go to the locker room. That day, we would be warming up in the weight room upstairs. After his lecture, we all went to our locker rooms. There was a huge crowd of female swimmers, all chatting as they put their bags into the lockers and grabbed their workout gear. I snuck off to the bathroom stalls and sat on the toilet until I thought everyone had left. Then I took my quarter to the pad machine after making sure I was alone. I put the quarter in, turned the knob, and it stuck. The machine was out of pads.
I slunk back into the stall and refreshed my makeshift toilet paper pad. There was no way I could go upstairs to the weight room like this. I decided I need to tell coach I was sick and to sit out. I found him out in the lobby with his clipboard and a coffee.
“Coach, I can’t exercise today,” I said quietly.
He had an amused look on his face. “You have a sniffle?” he asked sarcastically.
“No,” I hesitated. “Bowel issues.”
He laughed and shook his head. “Whatever. Go sit on the bleachers.”
When everyone came down from the weight room and into the pool area to swim, a couple of my teammates asked why I wasn’t going to practice. “I’m sick,” I explained.
“Bowel issues!” my coach crowed, jerking his thumb at me, rolling his eyes, and goading my teammates into laughter.
Real mature, I thought. Thank god I hadn’t told him the truth. That would have been even worse. At least everyone poops.
I just wanted to disappear. I sat through the entire ninety-minute practice watching as my teammates pointed and laughed at the fact that I was sitting it out because I had “diarrhea.” Fifteen minutes before practice ended, I slunk off to the bathroom one last time to wet my hair and change my toilet paper pad. By the time I made it out to the car, I didn’t have it in me to pretend anymore and I admitted to my mom that I hadn’t practiced and that I still couldn’t make the tampon work.
“Then we’ll get you into the doctor,” she replied.
A flush of horror raced through my body. “Why can’t I just wear a pad and take some time off practice?”
“You are going to swim,” she insisted. “Life goes on.”
The next day, my mom took me to the doctor’s office after school. They put me in a scratchy paper gown and had me lay down on a crinkly paper sheet in a cold sterile room, my feet splayed apart in stirrups, the world’s worst invention. Whoever came up with stirrups must have hated women, I thought. On a table next to me, the nurse had laid out a number of scary looking metal tools. I tried not to cry, but a tear escaped and rolled down my cheek.
The nurse looked over at me. “What?” she barked.
I just shook my head as I looked away from the instruments. She smirked and rolled her eyes, slamming the door behind her. I was completely alone. Did every teenage girl go through this? How come no one told me it was going to be this bad?
The doctor came in, a middle-aged man with glasses. “Legs up in the stirrups, please,” he stated curtly. He put a mask on and shined a big light toward my nether regions.
“You’re going to have to spread your knees,” he instructed, he said as he pulled on a pair of latex gloves with a snap!
My knees were clenched together for dear life. I couldn’t help but let the tears roll at this point. I was completely humiliated and all the memories of being violated as a child came back. I felt his gloved hands gently prying my knees apart.
“Ah, looks like your hymen is still partially intact. I’ll need to open it up for you. This won’t hurt. You’ll just feel a little pressure,” he tried to assure me. It was the first of many times I would hear that lie through the course of my life.
I turned my head and looked at the wall. I could hear a metallic clank as he grabbed a metal tool off the tray. My curiosity won out and I glanced over to see something that resembled a small scalpel. I felt my heart race; it thumped so hard that I worried it would leap out of my chest. All my muscles tightened. I tried not to shake.
“Please try to hold still,” he instructed, a hint of irritation in his voice.
I felt the latex gloves, the cold metal of the instrument, and the “pressure” he warned me about. I stifled a scream as I felt the blade slice my flesh, a searing, stinging sensation, followed by a warm gush of thick, sticky, liquid.
“All done,” he exclaimed. “You should be able to get a tampon in now.”
He snapped off his gloves and with a clang the trashcan lid flew open as he tossed the gloves and walked out the door. I stared at the tampon on the counter and wondered if this was what womanhood amounted to: a cold, sterile procedure and a plastic package on the counter. I laid on the crunchy paper, balled up in the fetal position, and sobbed. Flashes of my childhood burned my eyes behind my eyelids. I squeezed my eyes shut tighter, but the images kept coming. Naked bodies. Naked parts. Dark corners. Dirty floors. Crying, cussing, grunting. The dank smell of something familiar…yet not. I opened my mouth to scream, but there was no sound, only air and silence. I opened my eyes and stared at the wall, numb, until I could compose myself and get the tampon in. I am totally and completely alone in this, I realized. Everything inside of me suddenly felt dead. Nothing mattered. Everything I thought I was, everything I had been up to that moment shattered into a million pieces. I was convinced I was fragile, defective, and irretrievably broken. I headed out to the lobby and my mom whisked me off to swim practice without any discussion. I felt completely violated, like I had missed a turn, and now was lost.
The maiden being honored the night before represented everything that should have been and never was. And this is where the self-doubt the Morrigan had shown me stemmed from. I never learned to honor my sacred feminine. I never treated my sexuality as something to protect and celebrate. I had never been encouraged to cherish the precious gift that was the power of womanhood; it had always been branded as a “curse” and an inconvenience. For me, there had been no sacred rite of passage. It had been a cold, sterile, fact of life. Nothing about sexuality and femininity had been bestowed, taught, or cultivated. That’s the trajectory my life had taken for the next decade: it was nothing more than one procedure after another. Just a process, day in, day out, like a compass without bearing, I lost my direction and just went through the motions I thought I was expected to go through. My creativity – the only thing that had ever given me joy, pleasure, and release – had withered away. I was alone at sea in uncharted waters trying to find my way back to shore. I finally knew what had compelled me to do a home birth.
“Leah,” I said, emerging from my reverie, “I think all this stems from the fact that I had my maidenhood stolen from me.”
She knew exactly what I meant and grabbed me into a firm hug. I felt tears sting my eyes. I tried to force the tears back, but the tide was high and could not be stemmed. She held me for a moment, her hands patting my back, and despite being childless, she had a matronly energy about her that soothed me.
“Are you mad at your mother?” she asked softly.
“No,” I answered. “I love my mother. This wasn’t her fault. Her mother treated her with such total disregard that I’ve never met my mom’s mother. My mom didn’t know any better, I think she had suffered her own abuse, and I wouldn’t have known any better either, had I not come this weekend and seen the ritual last night.”
I didn’t realize what I already knew instinctively: women need other women. The women that had been important in my mom’s life had completely disappointed her. JoJo wound up wallowing in self-pity over an accumulation of illnesses and attempted to use a hefty inheritance to wield influence over those closest to her. JoJo’s biological daughter was the same way, and when illegal drug use became too dangerous, she had become a nurse to feed her pill seeking habits. My mom’s mother made Mom cry on her wedding day and treated her so badly that the toxic relationship had been severed. My Aunt Jean could never resist attempting to turn everything in life into a competition where her family was inevitably superior. The animosity had become so intense that it had resulted in a gulf between the two families. Mom’s childhood best friend, Alison, was thousands of miles away and wrote only once a year. Without the benefit of female bonding, my mom was never part of the web of women and all the mysteries held and shared among the sacred feminine. Instead, Mom had developed her own wisdom, highly intellectualized and philosophical. She admitted to me that she turned off the spigot of intuition years ago because sometimes what came out of the tap was too difficult for her to deal with. She cautioned that it was better not to know, and that ignorance was bliss.
What darkness had circled the drain? There were some questions I knew better than to ask. Everyone is entitled to privacy, and I knew my mom guarded hers more jealously than most.
How many other women had suffered the same fate, but had never managed to find the path towards the exit? I wondered. Once again, pain had been the sacred messenger, delivering yet another layer of truth. I looked across the field towards the ritual fire pit and saw Agate smoking a cigarette on a bench near her wagon. In my bones, in that moment, I knew I had to go back to my tent, get out my Grimoire, and write about it.